Possession. Some will say its nine tenths of the law.
But in sports, possession (of the puck or ball) is 100 percent the goal.
Without possession, getting points up on the board is practically impossible. That is why in hockey, owning the puck off the face off is tremendously important if any team hopes to display steady success in this cutthroat league.
Winning the puck off the draw can do wonders for a team. It can get them out of jams in front of their own net or set their offense up for strong attacks deep within their opponents’ zone.
The San Jose Sharks have shown extreme success at winning the drop over the past few years and their improvement in this crucial art keeps increasing.
Coming out of the NHL lockout, the 2005-06 Sharks posted a miserable 48.7 face-off win percentage, ranking 25th in the league. But something sparked an internal fire within the boys in Teal, because since then their numbers on the red dot has consistently moved north.
In the 2006-07 season, the Sharks jumped up to 11th in face off wins with a 51.1 percent win rate thanks in large part to Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau stepping up their performances in the circle. But they were not the only reasons for the jump in production.
The Sharks would have two other players with success rates above 50 percent, allowing San Jose fans to trust that their third and fourth line centers had what it takes to win the puck.
Things continued to improve the following year where they slightly increased their face off win percentage to 51.2 percent, finishing the 2007-08 season ranked 8th in the NHL.
That year, the Sharks had five centers with face off win percentages over 51 percent, including rookie center Joe Pavelski, who lead all San Jose centers in win percentages (53.5) that had at least 500 face off appearances.
Last year, the Sharks continued to move up the ladder in this all-important but rarely appreciated stat.
A plethora of face-off connoisseurs took the ice for the Sharks in 2008-09 led by Marcel Goc (58.2), Pavelski (56.3) and Thornton (55.4), allowing San Jose to finish the season second in face off win percentage at a 53.8 percent clip, only behind the Detroit Red Wings.
Despite the loss of the their top face off forward, the Sharks have not missed a beat from the success they displayed in the circle over the previous seasons.
Currently the Sharks are ranked first in the NHL at winning the puck when it comes out of the zebra’s hands at an impressive 56.9 rate. And once again they are doing it with centers on the energy and checking lines.
Scott Nichol leads the Sharks with a 64.3 face off win rate and as of today, ranks third in the NHL amongst forwards who have taken at least 50 draws. But San Jose’s success doesn’t stop there.
Including Nichol, the Sharks have four players, Manny Malhotra (56.2), Marleau (56.2), and Thornton (56.4) sitting in the NHL’s top 20 in this category. And with the recent return of Joe Pavelski, the Sharks could have yet another talented center cracking the NHL’s top face off performers in the near future.
As tight games start to creep to a close, teams often look to their centers to win these face-offs to provide them with the best chances of coming out as the victor. Luckily for the Sharks, Todd McLellan will have many reliable shoulders to tap on when these moments undoubtedly arise.